Japanese Maglev train breaks its own rail world speed record – an annotated infographic

April 24, 2015

Japan’s state-of-the-art magnetic levitation (Maglev) train has broken its own world speed record, hitting 603km/h in a test run near Mount Fuji, beating a mark of 590km/h it set on April 16.

E&T carried this monumental Maglev news earlier this week. Yeah, sometimes we’re a little bit slower than a Maglev train in getting around to pimping our content on the socials.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Zoom! [Not pictured: Fat Larry's Band]

Zoom! [Not pictured: Fat Larry’s Band]

New book blog: Hubble’s best shots in ‘Expanding Universe’

April 24, 2015

As the Hubble Space Telescope marks 25 yearsSONY DSC in service, Mark Williamson reports in the latest issue of E&T on how work on its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is progressing ahead of planned launch date in 2018. Mark has also reviewed a new book of photographs from Hubble – Expanding Universe – for www.satellite-evolution.com. Here’s an extract…

Just when you thought you’d seen the last coffee-table book on the Hubble Space Telescope, along comes another one… and it happens to be the best yet. As a publisher, Taschen is famous for its provocative and off-the-wall books, but it’s equally well known for its high standards of production. For those who think that the hard-copy book is dead, think again!

It’s clear from the moment you open this book that it is something different: the quality of the dust jacket and the thickness of the cover board testify to that. The majority of the book is printed on smooth, glossy paper that really shows off the Hubble’s images, but the introductory and closing sections feature a parchment-like material that, while less good for imagery, gives a feeling (quite literally) of quality.

It goes without saying that the Hubble has produced some amazing images. Indeed, some of the spreads feel almost as expansive as the universe they depict: this is a large format book (approx. 30cm square), so when you open out the larger panoramic spreads you need a desk – or indeed coffee table – that’s almost four feet wide.

‘Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope’, edited by Nina Weiner, is published in hardback by Taschen, price £44.99, ISBN 978383654922-6. read Mark Williamson’s full review at http://www.satellite-evolution.com/group/site/?p=40273.

E&T news weekly #47 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 24, 2015

Friday April 24 2015

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Japan’s maglev train breaks world speed record again

Japan’s newest magnetically levitated train has just achieved a new top speed of 603km/h (375mph) in a test run. I’ve been following progress of the chuo shinkansen ever since I first heard of the project, so it’s satisfying to see that it’s progressing well. Trials like this don’t just generate good publicity; they also ensure that the trains will be running well within their capabilities at normal in-service operating speeds.

‘Ghost’ railway station uncovered in London

Going from the future railway to the past, I’m well aware that this story may not interest the many E&T readers who don’t have London connections, but I grew up there and I’ve always liked history so I was delighted to read that engineers have uncovered the ticket hall and platforms of a station last used a century ago.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Humanoid robot can read facial expressions and interact with people

Nope. Just nope. This is brilliant, but horrendous. It’s one more step towards the Terminator/Do Androids Dream/Matrix future. Han, the humanoid robot, is able to recognise and interact with a person who is in front of it. Han can react through the controller’s commands on a mobile phone, and due to patterned recognition software and cameras in its eyes and chest, can identify someone’s eyes, maintain eye contact and read human facial expressions. The creepiest thing of all, it can respond to your expressions with its own. Han can also answer simple questions and can be used in situations like hotel desks or museums. Hansons Robotics will be commercialising their female robot Eva, which will be going into production this year. Make sure you don’t look it in the eye.

‘Ghost’ railway station uncovered in London

Engineers recently uncovered a ‘ghost’ station that was closed 100 years ago. The Southwark Park station was only used for 13 years before it was closed, and the engineers, who are part of a £6.5bn rail project, found its ticket hall and platforms. They are currently working up the roof space of the ticket hall to fill in old sky lights, and the stretch of viaduct will be replaced by ramps. The only thing that will remain from the old station will be the booking hall. Several stations like Southwark Park closed because of trams, buses, and WW1. I would like to see some ghosts in the new developments. Perhaps they’ll get rid of the arch after that. That would be a shame. I like some good old ghost stories.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
SpaceX gets espresso maker to ISS for astronaut Cristoforetti

Italians are famous for their delicious espresso; no surprise then that Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has been dissatisfied with the instant coffee only available at the International Space Station. But she’s dissatisfied no more as the first espresso-making machine has been delivered to the orbital outpost. As ordinary as coffee making may be on Earth, in zero-gravity conditions it may present unexpected challenges.

Project Fi smart mobile network launched by Google

Google’s latest ambitious venture aims to revolutionise mobile communications. The Project Fi virtual mobile network can not only smoothly switch between available mobile networks, always choosing the best performing one, it can also switch between mobile networks and free WiFi hotpots to offer the most cost effective connectivity. As part of the project, Google also explores the concept of cloud-based phone numbers to allow users to use their phone number from another device if they forget their phone at home.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Last-minute rush sees 460k register to vote in 24h

One in the eye for Russell Brand and anyone else encouraging some kind of boycott of the impending election as nearly half a million people, most of them aged under 35, went online to register to vote. The changes we’ve seen in the internet since 2010 mean it’s going to be used for campaigning and reporting in many new ways; at the end of the day though, it’s getting as many people as possible to engage in the process that is the web’s biggest achievement.

Japan’s maglev train breaks world speed record again

While HS2 remains one of the big election issues in areas that would be affected by the construction of a new rail line between London and the Midlands, Japan is getting on with making one of the world’s most advanced train services even faster. Latest breakthrough came this week as a magnetic levitation train topped 600km/h in a test run, smashing its own world speed record. Operator JR Central is talking about a service that would cover the 286km route between Tokyo and Nagoya in just 40 minutes, with some of the £67bn cost justified by potential sales of similar systems to other countries. Any chance of seeing maglev trains coasting into Birmingham this century?

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Invisible UV inks devised to help detect counterfeits

The level of sophistication that goes into counterfeits has made it almost impossible to spot a fake without close inspection, so the news that we might soon benefit from invisible inks to tell what’s authentic and what’s not is a relief. Scientists in the US have invented difficult-to-reproduce fluorescent inks to allow consumers to snap a photo with their smartphones to identify products that are often fake. The inks could be printed as either barcodes or QR codes on anything from banknotes to luxury items such as cosmetics or handbags.

Japan’s maglev train breaks world speed record again

Well, 603kmh is undoubtedly fast and with test runs going well it’s no surprise Japans’ high-speed rails services are one of the most advanced in the world. The maglev surpassed its previous record of 582kmh set 12 years ago and right now there aren’t other trains in sight to topple the world record. Maybe that’s why the government is looking to sell the bullet train systems overseas in a bid to strengthen the Japanese economy through infrastructure exports.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Mountains of e-waste worth £35bn hit global peak

Mobile phones, calculators and washing machines are just a few of the electronics which contributed to 2014’s global high of e-waste and experts predict a 21 per cent increase in 2018. A report, by the UN University explains e-waste not only contains gold, silver, plastic and iron, but also large amounts of health threatening hazardous toxins.

UK car industry productivity hits all-time high

Car manufacturing is on a high as figures show 144,893 cars were built in March, a record high since March 2006. The demand for newer and more diverse cars seems to have played a part in this increase, along with an adoption of newer technologies, such as collaborative robots.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Japan’s maglev train breaks world speed record again

I often find myself going absolutely nowhere on trains. Not for fun, I should add, but because the railway network is slow, expensive and shambolic at best and downright infuriating, overpriced and suspended at its worst. Perhaps we need to be looking to Japan’s record breaking maglev train for inspiration. I wouldn’t mind paying exorbitant rail fares to travel at 602kph but I do object to ticket prices going up year-on-year with no apparent benefit to passengers. Don’t even get me started on London’s Central line.

Last-minute rush sees 460k register to vote in 24h

While I am glad to see that almost 470,000 people registered to vote in the final 24 hours before the deadline for the UK general election, I do find myself despairing that they had not done so already. After all voting, particularly amongst the younger people this online system was designed to attract, is vital if they are ever going to see any benefit from whichever party (or coalition) emerges triumphant from May’s poll. The reason politicians pander to the older generations is because they vote in huge numbers. If young people want to properly represented and helped by the government they need to vote. Manifesto over.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Bee population decline caused by changing landscape

A few years ago E&T reported on a rather amazing new technology – using honeybees to detect explosives during security checks at airports. As far as I can remember, it was the bees’ keen sense of smell that allowed them to react to even the tiniest amounts of drugs or explosive substances by emitting a special hormone which, if detected, would activate an alarm. Since then I’ve been watching airport security officers closely (not too closely – I don’t want to arouse suspicions of suspicious behaviour) during my frequent travels, but have so far failed to spot any bees, or devices with bees, at the checkpoints. Well, now I know why: it must have been not so much due to the fact that the technology failed to take off, but rather because of the shortage of bees! Indeed, I forgot when I saw an ordinary honeybee, as opposed to some fluffy, noisy and still ubiquitous bumble bee (my son used to call them “humble bees” when a toddler) and equally noisy and ubiquitous wasps, whose usefulness to humankind is limited to pollinating some flowers, in my backyard. Yet, with the continuing shortage of bees in our gardens and airports, security officers may have to resort to using wasps instead. Not sure if the latter are capable of detecting dangerous substances, but they can at least give a potential terrorist or a drug mule a rather painful, albeit not at all lethal, sting.

It’s complicated… New book blog: ‘The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering’ by Sanjoy Mahajan

April 23, 2015

In an age whThe Art of Insight in Science and Engineeringen it’s so easy to answer pretty much any question with a reference to the internet, being able to make an accurate educated guess off the top of your head is becoming an impressive skill.

The secret, according to Sanjoy Mahajan, is to think like a human and not try to approach a problem like a machine. Whereas computers can cope with an amount of data that would overwhelm the average person, our advantage lies in being able to forget about absolute precision and instead use our insight to connect seemingly disparate bits of information into a simple picture.

So if you want to be able to impress friends and family by casually estimating the flight range of birds and planes and the strength of chemical bonds, not to mention getting to grips with the physics of pianos and xylophones, ‘The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering’ is your friend.

Mahajan, who is associate professor of applied science and engineering at Olin College of Engineering and visiting associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, puts 15 years of teaching at both institutions, not to mention Cambridge University, into practice to create an approachthat he believes can help solve any technical problem.

Starting with techniques for organizing complexity, he then distinguishes the two paths for discarding it either with and without loss of information. The result is a three-part toolkit, supported by example questions that walk readers though solutions without using complicated mathematics.

‘The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering: Mastering Complexity’ by Sanjoy Mahajan is published in print by The MIT Press, RRP £20.95, ISBN 9780262526548. It’s covered by a a Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike licence and is also available for free download from http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/art-insight-science-and-engineering.

#WhatsApp hits 800 million active users – an annotated infographic

April 22, 2015

WhatsApp, the messaging service that lets you text other users for free, now has 800 million active users every month. The app sends messages over the internet, bypassing a phone carrier’s text messaging charges.

WhatsApp is a solid poster boy for spectacular dotcom success, going from zero value as a start-up company in 2009 to the point at which Facebook hoovered it up for a tidy $19bn in 2014. Not bad for five years’ work, all told.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

800 million? Whatsapp with that?

800 million? Whatsapp with that?

New issue of E&T magazine online now – the #WearableTechnology issue

April 22, 2015

Check out the wearable technology, hype or happening issue of E&T online.

The wearable technology market has exploded. There are plenty of activity trackers, e-health monitors and smartwatches, but all too often the focus has been on emerging technology rather than the design. Yet product design is vital to commercial success, as consumers will only want to buy a device that complements their desired look.

If the wearables market is going to achieve the success it should, the fashion element that consumers use to express themselves needs to be the priority right now.

Wearables made readables

Wearables made readables

Check out the wearable technology, hype or happening issue of E&T online.

New book blog: ‘Implantable Electronic Medical Devices’ by Dr Dennis Fitzpatrick

April 21, 2015

With all tImplantable Electronic Medical Deviceshe buzz about the Internet of Things, it’s important to remember that this isn’t just the long-awaited arrival of the web-connected fridge. It might be an uncomfortable thought, but you – or at least a small part of you – could be part of the global network of thousands upon thousands of things.

Increasingly, one of the compromises involved in living to a ripe old age without regular visits to hospital will be accepting that you and your vital organs end up being part of the world wide web.

In a recent article for forbes.com, IBM cloud software architect Ahmed Farraq predicted that in the future, healthcare providers will monitor us in real-time via sensors that aren’t just worn but will be implanted in our bodies. That might sound like the stuff of dystopian science fiction, but the ground is being prepared now.

Dr Dennis Fitzpatrick is a reader in biomedical engineering at the University of West London, where he also leads the Biomedical Engineering Research Group. In ‘Implantable Electronic Medical Devices’, Dr Dennis Fitzpatrick provides a thorough review of the current application of implantable devices, illustrating the techniques being used together with overviews of the latest commercially available equipment.

The resulting reference guide groups devices with similar functionality into distinct chapters, looking at the latest design ideas and techniques in each area. These include retinal implants, glucose biosensors, cochlear implants, pacemakers, electrical stimulation therapy devices, and much more.

It’s a comprehensive review that will provide medical and biomedical engineers, as well as medical and clinical professionals involved with medical device design, with a catalogue of existing technology. For the interested layperson, it’s a fascinating glimpse into an area of engineering that will affect many if not all of us in the future.

‘Implantable Electronic Medical Devices’ by Dr Dennis Fitzpatrick CEng MIET is published by Academic Press, price £59.99, ISBN 9780124165564

E&T news weekly #46 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 17, 2015

Friday April 17 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Paedophiles turning to bitcoin to trade sex abuse images

It seems depressingly inevitable, but no sooner is a virtually anonymous, untraceable payment system invented than people will find disturbing, illegal uses for that currency. Drugs came first with the Silk Road online narcotics smorgasbord and other similar marketplaces. Now, paedophiles are reportedly using bitcoin, the most common virtual currency, to trade child sex abuse images.

Successful hacks and cyber attacks commonly result of human error

In a story that will doubtless have every technical support operative in every IT department in every office building around the world nodding their head in a resigned fashion, it turns out that the vast majority of successful hacks and cyber-attacks are the result of the more gullible employees clicking on attachments in phishing e-mails. Apparently, as few as 10 spoof emails sent to a company can often be enough to gain access to at least one hapless employee’s PC and from there the hacker can work their way into the wider company network. Proof positive that you can have the fanciest, most high-tech security system in place, but there’s still no legislating for stupidity.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Acoustic technology to combat California drought

California has been struggling with crippling drought, now in its fourth year. It’s a multifaceted issue, of course, but one of the culprits appears to be underground pipe leaks. An innovative approach is to find them early by means of acoustic detection: trying to spot the characteristic hissing sound of leaking pipes using special sensitive microphones attached to hydrants. Once a leak is discovered, it’s time to start digging to repair it. The technique is used in other countries too – but let’s hope it will help keep the Golden State from turning brown.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
UK’s total nuclear waste could fit in to one football pitch-sized site

All it takes is six 5km deep holes to bury all of the UK’s nuclear waste. Scientists came up with new ways for sealing radioactive waste into boreholes, which could be drilled, filled and sealed in less than five years. If field trials go well, we could soon be rid of our nuclear waste in no time, rather than wait for mined repositories to be built.

GPS sensors in smartphones could help predict earthquakes

It’s reassuring to know phones could help detect earthquakes before they happen, particularly for some of the world’s poorest regions where advanced early warning technology might not be available. A new study showed GPS sensors built into phones and other devices could detect ground movement caused by large earthquakes and alert people in advance of the onset of tremors.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Tech worker visas for immigrants hits record high in US

Immigration isn’t just a political hot potato in the UK. The US technology sector needs three times more skilled workers than it is allowed to import.

Alan Turing manuscript sells for $1m in New York auction

How much would you expect to pay for a notebook from a Cambridge stationers’ shop? It all depends who has written in it already and in this case it was Alan Turing.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Planes could be hacked through in-flight entertainment system

Yet another thing for nervous fliers to worry about as they board their plane. The person sitting next to you who looks like they’re trying to get the latest Transformers movie up on their fancy seat-back video display could actually be hacking into the aircraft’s flight control system, the US Government Accountability Office reckons. Cyber-security experts have told them that allowing control and entertainment to use the same wiring and routers makes them vulnerable to ‘potential malicious actors’ apparently, and no, they don’t mean the cast of that Transformers movie.

UK’s total nuclear waste could fit in to one football pitch-sized site

Good news that clever technology from a UK university that makes it easier and quicker to store nuclear waste is on the fast track in the US where it could be trialled next year. Obviously there’s much more to this than digging a hole and putting the waste in but it does seem worrying that a UK mined repository using existing technology isn’t due to take its first waste until 2075. Sceptics will be nervous about everything being concentrated in one site the size of a football pitch, which would presumably raise a host of security issues.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Planes could be hacked through in-flight entertainment system

As cyber-attacks become more frequent, it’s hardly surprising that most devices we now use have the potential to be hacked. Now, the US Government Accountability Office has revealed in-flight wireless entertainment systems can be hacked to access flight controls. The problem lies with the systems using the same wiring and routers as flight control, despite firewalls being set in place; the finding shows a cyber-security threat model is required.

Robotic chef hands unveiled which learn and mimic human actions

Robotic chefs could be coming to a restaurant near you! Well maybe not just yet, but Moley Robotics has developed a prototype autonomous cooking machine which uses two robotic arms to mimic human actions. It records the cooking process, such as chopping, cleaning and stirring, in 3D and maps individual motions which are turned into commands to control the arm movement.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Smartphone payments for Seattle’s homeless newspaper vendors

This is a great development, not just for the Real Change newspaper, but for the homeless people it employs. The project was set up to help the homeless and low-paid sell the Seattle newspaper who struggle in an increasingly cashless society. The app from Google is going to accept digital payments through customers’ smartphones by scanning a barcode. If this eventually helps the homeless off the streets into a more stable and healthy environment, then I’m all for it. The paper was founded in 1994 and helps 800 low-paid and homeless vendors in the Puget Sound area. All I can say is well done to Google volunteers, who are helping the homeless adapt to technological advances.

@Conservatives push ahead with contentious #Trident nuclear submarine programme – an annotated infographic

April 16, 2015

In the midst of UK election fever, what better way to throw your incumbent weight around than by committing to the purchase of four shiny new nuclear submarines?

The Conservative Party has decided that what this nation needs more than anything – e.g. better hospitals and schools for everyone, regardless of income levels – are four new Trident missile-armed submarines in order to maintain the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Forgive us for stating the bleedin’ obvious here, as we certainly do not purport to understand the complexities of caretaking our national defence policy, but even the writers of James Bond movies are no longer so stuck in the Cold War-era mentality where Johnny Foreigner bad guys with big missiles and nefarious intent need to be kept at bay with steely British resolve and a submarine chock-full of even bigger missiles. The genuine threat these days appears to come from high-tech hacking cyber-terrorists and unpredictable religious zealots.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Trident: an explosive issue

Trident: an explosive issue

#AppleWatch officially quite popular – an annotated infographic

April 16, 2015

From the top drawer of the “so obvious it surely isn’t news” files comes the statistical confirmation that a lot of people around the world really, really want an Apple Watch.

Soaring demand online for Apple’s new wearable device has obliged our favourite Californian tech uberlords to push back its delivery dates from April 24 to June.

The first Watch models arrived in UK Apple Stores this week for customer gawking, pawing and general uncontrollable slavering.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Watch: out

Watch: out


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